Skip to content

Asylum seekers continue fight against "flawed asylum process"

Asylum seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan have been protesting in central Helsinki against Finland's tough immigration and asylum policies for more than two weeks. They say there are significant shortcomings in the processing of their applications — and they are still unhappy after a meeting with the Immigration Service on Monday.

Demonstrating Iraqi asylum seekers listen to details about a meeting with Immigration Service officials at Helsinki Railway Square on Monday February 27, 2017. Image: Yle News / Egan Richardson

Finnish immigration authorities have tightened the rules for considering asylum applications following the arrival of more than 30,000 people seeking refuge from conflict in 2015.

The influx caught the government flat-footed and officials have been trying to address the flood of asylum applications by expediting asylum hearings. In other cases, they have declared countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq safe for return, arguing that asylum seekers can return to safe zones.

Iraqi protesters: Stop forced deportations

However the official arguments haven't been going down well with a group of Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers who set up camp in central Helsinki to protest what they call the government's inhumane policies.

Ali Rashied, a spokesman for the Iraqi protesters' delegation spoke with Yle News about a meeting with Immigration Service Director Jaana Vuorio on Monday.

Yle News: What did you tell them at the meeting?

"We told them they should stop the deportations [of] all refugees by force," Rashied said on Monday. "If there is somebody who wants to return voluntarily, it's OK. Now we are defending all of the families, all of the refugees that come here, they got negative decisions without any fair reasons - every decision was unfair."

Spokesman: Official admitted to shortcomings

The spokesman said that the immigration chief suggested that asylum seekers could seek redress if they felt their applications were not adequately processed.

Rashied: "We didn't get any good points [from the Immigration Service], only one [point] was clear. Ms. Jaana Vuorio said that every person who feels that their [asylum application] was refused unfairly should go to submitting asylum again here. She also admitted [there was] a low quality of the decisions and about the translators."

Yle News: "She said the decisions were of low quality?"

Posters at asylum seeker demonstration at Helsinki Railway Square on Monday, February 27, 2017. Image: Yle News / Egan Richardson

"Yes, yes, yes. She admits that and she says 'OK, we can go to administrative court and maybe they will correct the decisions,'" Rashied said.

According to their website (siirryt toiseen palveluun), the protesters say that Migri has been "unprofessional with the decisions, and this leads to life-dangering [sic] deportations."

The asylum seeker protesters have four basic demands:

The group says that Migri should "admit that inexperienced staff and poor country reports have led to faulty decisions," and that the decisions "need to be reviewed again in order to prevent refoulement." Refoulement refers to the forcible return of refugees to countries where they may be subjected to persecution.

The group also says "there needs to be an independent outside review of the quality of the asylum process in Migri to prevent further mistakes and misconduct," and that "Migri needs to update the sources of the country reports and make them - and the sources behind them - public," and to compare their practices with those of other countries.

Migri director: Eviction from reception centres will continue

In early February the Director of the Migration Service, Jaana Vuorio, said that she had 'learned her lesson' (siirryt toiseen palveluun) from a complaint filed by the Chancellor of Justice over its treatment of some asylum claims. During her meeting with delegations of Afghan and Iraqi protesters, she said that although appeal courts can take translation errors into account, Migri's options were limited.

"It's always possible to seek asylum again," said Vuorio. "If it's a groundless new application, it will be dealt with very quickly. If there are new grounds for the claim, or translation errors, that have led to an erroneous decision, the matter can be fixed as long as the individual remains in the country, if necessary."

Vuorio rejected the asylum seekers demands' that deportations stop and that asylum seekers remain are not evicted from reception centres if their case is being appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.

"In this discussion we clarified that it's the law that people are removed from reception centres," said Vuorio. "It is also an absolute duty for the directors of reception centres. If there is a final, negative decision, and the applicant has nothing to complain about, he should be removed from this system."

She did admit that Migri is not perfect.

"It's always possible that mistakes happen," said Vuorio. "That's quite human."

Complaint by Chancellor of Justice

In 2015 some 32,476 people applied for asylum in Finland, a nearly ten-fold increase on the 3,651 applications received in 2014. In 2016 the figure was 5,657.

The large influx prompted a re-evaluation of criteria for granting asylum and humanitarian protection, which was in effect a toughening of the rules. Asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia were faced with stringent rules and recommendations for internal displacement as their applications were rejected.

That meant that they were effectively told that although their home town wasn't safe, they could live elsewhere in their home country. Asylum seekers and human rights groups say that internal displacement is itself dangerous if the individual has no support network in place.

Humanitarian protection was also removed from the legislation governing asylum claims, and the Chancellor of Justice issued a complaint against the Immigration Service over its implementation of that legislation.

Latest: paketissa on 10 artikkelia